It started in the now customary manner of breakfast at the Center and the group piling into a beat up old school bus. Then we drove round the roads and tracks around Churchill in search of wildlife sightings. Initially, it looked as if the bear sightings may have been a little slow to arrive, however we soon had a remarkable encounter with 3 bears. This alone will give me many hours of pleasure after my return in sorting and editing my photographs, however I found the bears had a remarkable emotional impact on me, to the extent that I fighting back tears at one stage. I have experienced strong emotions to in the presence of grizzly bears but the intensity of my feelings today was different. I made a decision there and then that I would definitely be returning on this trip again, and that polar bears were my favourite species. This is all the more poignant given the threats which they are under, but their sheer majestic beauty is so compelling to me.
The most memorable part was to witness two young polar bear cubs play fighting- this was such a privilege. The photos show that one had a considerably lighter coat than the other. Chuck told me later that the bears den in peaty soil and their colours varied depending on whether they had yet entered the water. In fact even adult bears are not actually white like snow- they have a yellow tinge to their coat. The sea ice in Churchill has not yet formed, and on average every year is forming later and dissipating sooner, so the bears are literally starving, as they have less time during the winter to hunt for their main food source, seals.
We also had a lengthy encounter with a black phase red fox and at the end of the day, just as daylight was fading away, we saw another polar bear from close proximity- an amazing encounter. He walked across the road and right beside our bus. We were also lucky enough to walk on the shores of Hudson Bay and hear Chuck's interpretation of a (now obsolete) bear trap and current best practice in bear management. Interestingly he explained that 5 out of the 7 state bear managers in Montana were pupils of his and adopted the philosophy that it was important to endear themselves to the community and built relationships, rather than simply enforcing regulations.
I also have to return to the group dynamic- I am so lucky to have met some like minded people who have been so sympathetic to my British eccentricities and in some cases wonderful company. It will be very difficult to return to my normal life again after this. However for the time being the excitement of a tundra buggy trip tomorrow is in the front of my mind.
The day ended with a lecture on photography when I won a prize for the participant who had travelled furthest for the course, and then the customary gathering in the kitchen.
Chaos at Ladoon's
Note the truck chasing the bear away
Walk on the beach
Late afternoon bear sighting
End of a long day